“…he will turn the hearts of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6b)
We have all had fathers. We have all had imperfect fathers. The whole gospel in a nutshell is the story of how we might have our hearts reconciled to our Heavenly Father. Our eternal destiny is wrapped up in this turning of our hearts toward God. We will never have peace nor will we ever experience real victory in our lives until we are one with the heart of our Father.
God desires this union so much he sacrificed his Son Jesus to make it possible. He also wants very much that we be reconciled with our earthly fathers. Many live their whole lives looking over a chasm of separation to distant fathers who don’t seem to know how to connect with their children or they are so self-consumed they don’t care to make the sacrifices necessary to build strong relationships with their own sons and daughters. Sometimes family members search for a crutch by saying, “Oh, but I came from a dysfunctional family.” Over the years I have become more and more convinced that we all came from dysfunctional families. That’s what sin does to the family, it makes it dysfunctional.
We have to make peace with our fathers, even if they were cruel and abusive, even if they were never there, even if they have already died. The hearts of the children are not turned to the fathers until they have made peace with them.
My own father came up short in a lot of ways but he demonstrated a loyal love for God and always directed my heart toward Christ.
I sat with my father at his bedside during his last 12 days in Meadville City Hospital in northwestern Pennsylvania. At the age of 65 Dad had had a massive stoke and he lie in a coma. My mother and I sat hour after hour with him. I sat many hours alone with him before he died. I talked to him. I told him things I never told him before. I confessed some things I felt he needed to know. I prayed and prayed he would come out of his coma. In the first few days he squeezed my hand a couple times in response to things I’d said. I told him I loved him. He never emerged from the coma. He died in that hospital bed and we buried him in a small cemetery behind a small Methodist church in a little village not far from Meadville.
The things I told my dad while he was lying in a coma were things I wish I had told him before he was stricken down. I’ll never know if he heard me or understood me. Don’t put off talking to your fathers while you still have them. If there is a need for reconciliation, if there is a need to clear the air, if there is a need for forgiveness or confession, don’t hesitate. Find the courage to do that because your father will one day be gone. There can be no healing without communication.
Children and fathers must meet each other half-way on the bridge to reconciliation. The children must often confess rebellion and disobedience and the fathers must confess the many failures and weaknesses. We have all had imperfect fathers. We are all imperfect fathers. Let’s look at a few ways fathers sometimes fail:
1. Work-a-holic father. My father was a work-a-holic and his father was an alcoholic. My father and his brothers were abused horribly by a father whose idol was a whiskey bottle. My father’s mother died when he was 17. He never received words of affirmation from his father so he spent his whole life literally working himself to death trying to prove his worth. I know near the end of his life he regretted not spending more time with his family.
2. Passive father. Perhaps the most dangerous father of all is the passive father. He is emotionless. He will not throw a block for his children. He says he loves them but his actions indicate he loves himself more than his children. He refuses to get involved in the lives of his children. He often comes home and sits on his throne waiting for others to serve him.
3. Tyrannical father. Maybe some of you have had a father who provoked you to anger because he set a standard so high you could never achieve it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen these kind of fathers “provoking their children” to anger and frustration on a little league field or a soccer field demanding a performance from them they are incapable of giving.
4. Absent father. The son who grows up with gender confusion often doesn’t know who he is because his father never affirmed his identity. The daughter of an absent father often follows after deceptive and undesirable males in her life because she is trying to fill the empty void in her life.
God wants reconciliation between fathers and their children. What is not forgiven is passed on to the next generation. If we want to break the cycle we have to forgive our fathers whether they be dead or alive. If we didn’t have a good father we must break the cycle and become good fathers by patterning ourselves after the one Father who is perfect, our father in heaven.
David Mease wrote a song entitled My Father’s Chair:
“Sometimes at night I’d lie awake
Longing inside for my father’s embrace.
Sometimes at night I’d wander downstairs
And pray he’d return but no one was there.
Oh, how I’d cry, a child all alone
Waiting for him to come home.”
“My father’s chair sat in an empty room,
My father’s chair covered with sheets of gloom.
My father’s chair through all the years
And all the tear I cried in vain
No one was there in my father’s chair.”
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne” – (Rev. 7:10)
If your father’s chair is empty please rest in the assurance that your heavenly Father’s chair is occupied and will never be vacated. All earthly fathers struggle with their own imperfections but our Father in heaven loves us with a perfect love.